Being self employed, I like to flex my work schedule so I can enjoy the summer months the best I can. That often means waking up early to enjoy the quiet to get things done before the day gets busy. Which also means that I usually can have most loose ends wrapped up by lunch time- which I was able to do this particular Friday.
Friday, July 21, 2023 was no exception. I got all the pending orders shipped out and decided to head out and activate a park for a few hours. I have a few local favorites: Rib Mountain State Park and Ackley Wildlife area. These are parks that I can get to in about 20 minutes. The third local favorite is the Ice Age National Scenic Trail (POTA K-4238), which I access from the Dells of the Eau Claire County Park.
The Ice Age Trail is long, 1200 mile, meandering trail that follows the extent of glaciation in the State of Wisconsin. The geography and geology of the state is quite unique and much of this uniqueness is influenced by the glaciation. Which brings us to the Dells of Eau Claire County Park.
Dells of the Eau Claire County Park
Located about 17 miles east of Wausau, the Dells of Eau Claire features a rocky gorge, waterfalls, and potholes where the Eau Claire river flow through. The rock found here is some of the oldest on earth and is precambrian rhyolite dating back 1.9 billion years. Suffice to say the rock is very hard and durable and you can visibly see the passage of time etched on its surface.
As the glaciers receded and the meltwater flowed through the area, the gorge was cut further and the swirling sand and gravel created the amazing water features we see today. As a kid we’d visit the park and teenagers would often jump from the outcrops into the potholes. After a few tragic accidents, the parks department pretty much put a stop to that. There is not doubt the water is dangerous, especially when the river levels are high, but people still walk about and sun themselves on the rocks. I did a video a couple years ago on the Dells of the Eau Claire if you want to see more of the beauty of this park.
This is the spot where the Ice Age Trail traverses the park.
The park has two parts separated by a county highway, the west unit and the east unit. The east unit features a small campground, beach, and picnic area. There is also a dam that controls the flow of the river through the dells. The west unit has a large picnic shelter, playground, and the dells feature itself. Both areas have spots where you can set up and activate the trail within the 100 foot rule. For this activation I found a picnic table under a tall shade tree in the west unit of the park.
I’ve used quite a few different antennas in the park and there are a couple more secluded spots where I can deploy nice wire antennas. This time, since I was in a higher traffic area, I went with the 1/4 wave vertical antenna and the window screen ground plane. While I didn’t have anyone tramping through my radial area this time, my activity did garner a couple of visitors.
Speaking of visitors, I know some people like to put out banners and attract attention, I prefer to keep it more low key. I’ll have people ask me what I’m doing and I usually answer with a simple: “I’m doing ham radio.” When they ask what’s that, I’ll say I’m talking to people all over the country. Then I point to my simple antenna and transceiver and leave it at that. I don’t try to explain Parks on the Air, emergency, communications, or preparedness. All that stuff makes their eyes glaze over. So I keep it simple- the more they ask, they more I tell them. Otherwise I find the simple explanations satisfy them quite well.
Which brings me to my headset. I like using the headset in the park as it keeps the overall noise level down. But this time I forgot it. I usually keep the headset in my vehicle with my other POTA equipment, but earlier in the week I was using it on my shack transceiver. So it was sitting on my bench. Fortunately I keep a small pair of headphones in my bag as a backup. So I got out the headphones and microphone and went at it on the 20 meter phone band.
And good thing I did. Wearing headphones makes it much easier to pick out the weaker stations and to be able to better pull out callsigns in the pile up. There wasn’t a whole lot of activity on the bands, conditions were pretty good, but of the about 60 activators on the POTA spots page, the bulk of them were hanging on 20 meter digital. I easily found a spot on the 20 meters and started calling CQ. I got a small pile up going in no time. Responses were steady, and I didn’t have any big, crushing pileups. There was a fair amount of solar activity Thursday and Friday of that week and I think many people had written the bands off, which explains the high amount of FT8 activators. There was a fair amount of signal fading, some of them quite deep, but this variability didn’t make the band unusable, you just needed to be a bit patient and wait for the fade to subside, which it usually did. I ran phone for just under an hour and logged 72 contacts.
After the hour long run on phone, I made the switch to digital. When I do a park, I like to do phone first and then digital as the reverse beacon network (RBN) will automatically respot me on the digital frequency. An that it did. No more than two calls and and I had a steady stream of stations responding to me. The passband was quite crowded, there were a lot of stations operating Friday afternoon, so I ended up bouncing around a little bit. But band conditions were quite good and just about all the contacts completed with little or no repeats. You can tell when conditions are poor when you get into a loop between Received Signal and RR73. That wasn’t the issue this time. With steady contacts, I wrapped up in about an hour and twenty minutes with 51 contacts, all on 20 meters. By this time it was after 3:30pm and I wanted to be home a little after 4:00pm. It took me little over 5 minutes to back and I was on the road headed to Wausau by 3:50pm.
What stuck out to me on this activation was the actual quality of the bands. Hearing the propagation forecast and the report of two CMEs with a chance of aurora happening Thursday and Friday of that week, I was expecting the worst. Propagation can be variable and solar conditions are unpredictable, so don’t let a poor forecast keep you from going out and activating a park. You never know what might happen.
K-4238 Ice Age National Scenic Trail 20 meter Phone Contacts
K-4238 Ice Age National Scenic Trail 20 meter digital contacts
If you go
Dells of the Eau Claire County Park
County Hwy Y
Aniwa, WI 54408
Camping (28 sites), park shelter, beach, hiking trails